small business intern

Can Interns Help Your Small Business Navigate the Labor Shortage?

Gene Marks

Transcript

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Gene (00:02):

Hey everybody, this is Gene Marks and welcome to this week’s edition of The Hartford’s Small Biz Ahead Podcast. So, let’s talk this week about solving a big problem that I know you have, because all small business owners seem to have it like myself, which is finding employees. In fact, finding any employees with some level of skills to work in our businesses. I mean, we all know that there is a huge labor shortage going on. There are more than 10 million unfilled jobs out there according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s really hard to find good people and hire good talent. And what do you do? Well, there’s a lot of different places you can look for good employees, but I’ll tell you something. I have some clients, small clients, not necessarily big corporations that are doubling down on finding interns for their business, like actual interns from college or universities in the area.

Gene (01:02):

I live in Philadelphia and right near me is Drexel University. And at Drexel University, they have actually a co-op program. Like if you go to Drexel, it’s a five year program to graduate from their college because almost a year of it is spent doing co-ops-interns at companies. It’s a pretty awesome system. I think Northeastern University has a similar system set up where their students get real life work experience while also getting their academic experience. Now, most universities don’t do this, but that doesn’t mean that you still can’t provide your own sort of co-op or intern program in your business by hiring people out of work. So, it’s something to consider. And I wanna give you some thoughts on that. Now, first of all, internships themselves while growing in popularity, they actually were cut back a lot during the pandemic.

Gene (01:51):

In fact, there was a study that was done by Glassdoor, the big HR and recruiting platform that found that a lot of big companies cut their internship programs by like almost in half, but that’s catching up. So the National Association of College and Employers, they did a recent study in 2022, and they found out that most of the respondents to their study were planning on increasing the number of interns during the year. In fact by like more than 20%. So that’s a good thing. So people were getting back to hiring interns. And again, you might think this is a big corporate thing, but it’s not a big corporate thing. It can, it’s very viable for small businesses as well. In fact, when you hire an intern, they can provide fresh perspectives to your business. They can bring new things to your company. They can offer new ideas or bring ideas that because of their age, because of their background, because they don’t have an agenda. There’s a lot of benefits to doing just that. And a lot of college kids are very eager to learn. They want to get the job skills available so they can use them in the future when they apply…

Gene (02:58):

To other jobs. And hey, you might find your next employee as part of an internship. So it’s definitely kind of like a reciprocal relationship. There are definitely benefits for the college student, but there’s also a lot of benefits to you, the employer as well, for hiring interns and certainly something that you might want to consider this year to solve your problem of hiring employees. So, let me give you some advice. This is based on some people that I talk to, some of my clients that are hiring. And again, this advice is coming from small businesses, okay? Not not big corporate brands, okay? So, for starters, you wanna make sure there are, there are clear expectations in, in your internship program, okay? I mean, you have to realize that when you’re hiring some kid that’s in college, they don’t really have that much work experience at all.

Gene (03:48):

They don’t really know how to behave in a corporate environment. They don’t know all the sort of basics of what they need to be done. And so when you’re, when you’re looking to hire somebody as an intern or when you found that person for an intern, you really wanna make sure that you give ’em some of the, some of the basics of stuff they need to know. What time they need to show up to work, what they should be wearing, what to do at lunchtime, what time to leave work, just the basics of how to operate in a corporate environment. You can’t assume that the intern knows this. A lot of the students, they don’t know this kind of stuff.

Gene (04:24):

So you wanna set the parameters of just their behavior in the office, and then you also wanna give them specific parameters for their jobs as well. Like what is expected of them, what they expect to deliver, what their responsibilities are, how they’ll be evaluated. All of that stuff is very, very important when hiring somebody. Make sure all this stuff is clear from the very beginning, okay? One issue that comes up a lot with internships is working from home. Different people have different viewpoints on that. That national association of colleges and employers I talked about earlier, as part of their study. They found that almost half, like 47% of the companies that said they were increasing interns were gonna provide like a hybrid internship experience. A quarter of them said they’re gonna have internships exclusively in person.

Gene (05:16):

So, that’s really like 75% of these companies are basically saying we’re gonna have our interns in the office. If not some, then most of the time. You should be doing the same thing. Your interns need to be around with a, maybe a mentor, somebody that can advise them. Working from home as part of an internship is not a really great scenario in a lot of companies. You’re really not providing the kind of help that those kids need. And also they might not be able to provide the kind of services that you want them to provide from you. Okay? When you hire an intern, make sure that you have a contract as well. You need to stipulate what their pay is gonna be. You need to classify them as an…

Gene (05:57):

Employee and you have to pay them, by the way. Back in the day, there was a time where you didn’t have to pay, people weren’t paying interns, that’s all gone. You pay your interns, okay? At a market rate. You wanna make sure as part of this contract that you’re stipulating what their title, their role is, their description of duties, who their supervisor is, the duration of the agreement. You wanna make the contract at will, if your state allows that so that you can, you can terminate that person, really with no just cause unless you’re doing something unlawful. All of those things are important in an internship contract. And by the way, if you’re looking for examples of internship contracts, you can search for them online. There are a lot of free contracts that are out there that you can download and check in them out.

Gene (06:37):

It’s very, very important that all that stuff is determined in advance, okay? Also, when you employ interns, you gotta give them good regular performance reviews. This is a generation that is used to getting like automatic feedback to everything. Like right away. This is like, they grew up on Facebook and Twitter and social media and TikTok and they’re used to posting stuff and getting responses. They expect the same from you as an employer. You wanna make sure that you’ve got a methodology for giving feedback along the way to your people. Don’t wait for the end of the internship to do an evaluation, okay? So again, make sure everything is determined upfront. Have a contract in place, pay them market rates, treat them as an employee, bring them into the office as much as possible. Don’t have like, avoid the work from home arrangements as it is and then review them and give feedback as frequently as possible.

Gene (07:33):

Those are just some of the building blocks to creating a really good relationship with an intern. And listen, lemme tell you something. Interns can provide a lot of value to your business, relatively cost effective. They can perform a lot of functions. But, think of the future. You might be able to hire that intern when he or she graduates from university and you’re getting in early. On the other side, you are really providing an opportunity regardless if you hire that person or not, you’re providing an opportunity for that young student to learn how to behave in the workplace and figure out what he or she wants to do with themselves going forward and learn responsibilities. It’s a really, really good thing. So it’s not the be all end all, but one way that you can address the labor market issues that you’re having to find employees is consider bringing on an intern or two next year.

Gene (08:20):

I think the benefits way outweigh the cost, and I think that if you do it the right way, it could be something that you do for a long, long time. Hey, thanks for listening. My name is Gene Marks. This has been The Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast. If you would like any advice or tips or help in running your business, please visit us at SmallBizAhead.com or the SBA.The.Hartford.com as well. I will be back next week with some more advice to help you run your business. Hope you found this advice helpful. Look forward to seeing you then. Take care.

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